The Government Performance and Results Act of
1993 (GPRA) is intended to bring about a
fundamental transformation in the way
government programs and operations are
managed and administered. The United States
is at the mid-point of a four year period for
making any needed changes in government
processes, systems, and practices before the
law takes full effect in 1997. This paper
examines the United States experience to
- On August 3, 1993, President Clinton signed into law the
Government Performance and Results Act.
- The main features of this law are:
-- a requirement for Federal departments and agencies to
prepare strategic plans, beginning with an initial plan
to be submitted to the Office of Management and Budget
(which is an agency within the Executive Office of the
President) and to Congress by September 30, 1997.
-- a requirement that Federal departments and agencies
prepare annual performance plans, setting out specific
performance goals for a fiscal year, starting with a
performance plan for fiscal year 1999. (The Federal
Government's fiscal year begins October 1 and ends the
following September 30. Fiscal year 1999 begins on
October 1, 1998.)
-- a requirement that the Office of Management and Budget
(OMB) prepare an annual government-wide performance
plan, which is based on the agency annual performance
plans. The government-wide performance plan is to be a
part of the President's budget and is transmitted to
Congress. In the agency and government-wide
performance plans, the levels of program performance to
be achieved will correspond with the program funding
level in the budget. The first of these plans will be
for the fiscal year 1999 budget, which Congress should
receive in February, 1998.
-- a requirement that Federal departments and agencies
submit an annual program performance report to the
President and Congress, and which compares actual
performance with the goal levels that were set in the
annual performance plan. The annual report is due six
months after the end of a fiscal year. The first
report, covering fiscal year 1999, is to be submitted
by March 31, 2000.
-- provisions giving managers greater flexibility in
managing by allowing the waiver of various
administrative controls and limitations. In return,
managers are expected to be more accountable for the
performance of their programs and operations.
- In the years prior to these government-wide requirements
coming into effect, the law provides for several sets of pilot
projects. The performance measurement pilot projects test and
demonstrate whether the structure and specifications for the
annual performance plan and program performance report work as
intended. The managerial accountability and flexibility pilot
projects examine the practical application of the managerial
accountability and flexibility concept on Federal managers and
- Within the Federal Government, GPRA applies to all 14
Cabinet departments, virtually all independent establishments
(agencies), and all government corporations. A government
corporation is an entity either owned or controlled by the
Federal Government. Departments and establishments have
component units, which may be called a bureau, administration, or
service, and are covered by being a part of a department or
independent establishment. In this paper, the term "agency" is
hereafter used to mean a department, independent establishment,
or government corporation.
- The change that GPRA seeks to bring about would place much
greater emphasis within the government on what programs are
actually accomplishing, and how well the accomplishments match
with the programs' purpose and objectives. In the United States,
this is called 'Managing for Results'. To this juncture, the
primary focus has more usually been on the amount of budget
resources obtained, and what these buy: staff on-board, for
example, new equipment, supplies, or the number of grants,
procurements, and transactions that could be made.
- GPRA centers on the role and responsibility of Federal
managers (of which there are several tens of thousands within the
Federal government). Other reforms have usually focused on
particular functions (such as accounting and auditing) and which
are often support or ancillary activities in contrast to an
agency's core programs.
- Many (perhaps most) Federal officials are mainly evaluated
not on what their programs accomplished, but on whether they
followed the administrative rules and internal practices that
governed their conduct as managers. Under GPRA, this adherence
still matters, but one's role and responsibility for a successful
or failing program should be of greater importance.
PART 1: BACKGROUND
- GPRA is not without its historical ancestors. These can be
traced over the past 30 years, and, somewhat ominously, largely
failed to take root. Indeed, if any had succeeded, this paper
would have a different topic and theme.
- The first was the Program, Planning, and Budgeting System
(PPBS), which was introduced in the 1960's and sought to extend
the program management and budgeting scheme being used by the
Department of Defense to the government-at-large. What Vietnam-
era 'whiz kids' in the Pentagon were able to accomplish in the
Department of Defense with the operations research focus of PPBS
could not be readily replicated elsewhere. PPBS was succeeded in
the 1970's by Management by Objective (MBO) and then by Zero-
Base-Budgeting (ZBB). Within the Federal Government, both MBO
and ZBB soon became artifacts of that decade, although an evolved
form of PPBS continues to be used in the Department of Defense.
- During the 1980's, there were three significant initiatives:
productivity improvement, quality management, and a short-lived
resurrection of MBO. The productivity improvement effort quickly
became mired in difficulty: problems arose in defining what
units would be measured, compounded by the widespread incapacity
of government financial systems to cumulate and assign costs for
the units. Quality management continues to this day, although in
an evolving and more focused form.
Will history repeat?
- Is GPRA yet another reform that will flower briefly and soon
fade? What makes GPRA different from these earlier initiatives,
and why might it succeed when the others have not?
- An important distinguishing aspect of GPRA is that it is a
law; the others were established through Presidential directive.
GPRA is thus a creation not only of the President, but of the
Congress as well. Seen another way, laws such as GPRA can be
enduring monuments to governance; Presidential directives are
more fragile edifices. Indeed, most of the earlier initiatives
began and ended with a Presidential term.
- By design, GPRA is not trying to transform immediately the
whole Executive branch of government. Many of these other
efforts attempted to do so, and quickly. The combination of
haste and scope became the path of failed ambition. Major change
requires time: staff often need to adapt, and systems and
processes must be adjusted. Several initiatives sought to expand
a much smaller effort that had worked well for a particular type
or level of function into government-wide application. A full-
scale instant immersion strategy was followed. But in not
allowing for lessons learned, experience gained, and a trial and
error approach, the onset of problems and flaws in the course of
putting the reform in place first bred agency reluctance and then
resistance to the reform itself.
- In the past, too much was expected from existing systems and
processes for measuring, reporting, and analyzing information.
Only in recent years with widespread use of desktop computers and
linked networks of computers, has the collection and presentation
of timely performance information moved from being a paper- and
staff-intensive effort to something that can be done in a more
- Performance information that managers use in managing
programs and operations forms the underpinning for GPRA
performance measurement. Some earlier efforts used this (or
similar) information in a more limited way, such as analyses for
decision-making. While such uses can be very important, the data
was often special purpose, developed and used by only a few
staff. These staff had little or no ownership for any goals or
commitments associated with the information. Any tie to what
managers would do (or accountability for how they managed) was
remote, if it existed at all.
- Perhaps most significantly, these are different times.
Throughout previous decades, funding for Federal programs was
generally stable, if not growing. Now, funding is mainly
decreasing, and programs are increasingly being challenged to
explain their purpose and demonstrate their value. Program
performance now counts for much more than in the past.
- The public's view of government has also changed. Several
commentators have declared that American government is currently
beset with three deficits: a budget deficit, a performance
deficit, and a trust deficit. The performance deficit is
indicated by a public that doesn't know what its government is
doing. The trust deficit marks a public which has low confidence
in its government doing the right thing. More and better
information on what the government is doing and how well it is
doing can address the trust and performance deficits.
- GPRA's origin can primarily be traced to two separately
conceived proposals put forward about five years ago. One
proposal was described in the Management Report (January 1989) of
then President Reagan. This report contained a chapter, prepared
by OMB staff, titled "Government of the Future" and which
outlined the basic structure of what would become four years
- The other seed for GPRA sprang from Congress. In 1991,
Senator William Roth first introduced the legislation that would
eventually become the Government Performance and Results Act.
This was the other origin of GPRA. The proposed law was largely
framed on the experience of one American city -- Sunnyvale,
California -- which had successfully been using many of GPRA's
main features for over a decade. The following year, the
legislation was extensively rewritten and 19 other Senators
(nearly equally representing both political parties) joined
Senator Roth in sponsoring the proposed law. In late 1992, the
legislation was approved by the Senate, but the House of
Representatives took no action. In 1993, newly-elected President
Clinton gave early and strong support for the proposed
legislation. GPRA was subsequently passed by both the Senate and
House of Representatives without objection, and was promoted and
supported by members of both political parties.
- The Chief Financial Officers Act became law in 1990, and
several features of this Act also helped lay the groundwork for
GPRA. The first was an instruction to agencies that program
performance information was to be included in the annual
financial statements required by this Act. (This performance
information was retrospective, covering a past fiscal year.) The
second was a joint OMB/agency effort which developed common
performance measures for over 15 functions similar to those being
routinely done in the private sector. These commercial-type
functions included areas such as debt and credit management, real
property management, electric power generation and distribution,
supply and inventory management, and insurance.
- The Executive branch did not rely solely on the Sunnyvale
experience when it participated with the Congress in redrafting
the proposed law, or in assessing whether GPRA would be feasible
or practical at a national government level. Any confidence that
GPRA might be carried out successfully primarily arose from two
sources: the experience in developing common performance
measures for the annual financial statements and the increased
inclusion of performance information in these statements; and
from similar initiatives that were taking hold in other
countries. From a U.S. perspective, much weight was placed on a
conclusion that these other national initiatives were still being
advanced a half decade or more after being started (most of the
previously referenced Federal efforts had already languished
within such a time-period) and overall, seemed to be succeeding.
The OECD Public Management Committee was especially useful in
identifying these other national initiatives.
- Nothing in GPRA is new or revolutionary to the American
experience. GPRA's major elements can be found in most
businesses, where these have been used for decades but for a
different ultimate objective: profit or loss. What GPRA seeks
to create is the government's counterpart to the business 'bottom
- As GPRA became law, other initiatives were also coming to
the forefront of Federal governmental reforms. The most
prominent of these is the National Performance Review (NPR), a
wide-ranging look at how government could be made to work better,
and led by the Vice President.
- The NPR has embraced GPRA's purpose and concept. Several
parts of the NPR relate directly to performance. These include:
-- Customer service standards. Agencies have established
about 2,000 standards. The customer service standards
reflect a major Federal emphasis on improving the
delivery of government services and products to their
users and beneficiaries. The customer service
standards continue an emphasis on quality improvement
and management that began last decade. Not all the
standards are measurable. In time, those that are
should be incorporated as performance goals in GPRA
plans and reports.
-- Performance agreements. These are agreements between
the President and Cabinet Secretary or the head of an
independent agency. The concept is based on
performance-based employment contracts that are being
used in several other countries, with several important
differences. These agreements are at the highest
level, and not between a minister and an agency
director, which is the usual starting point elsewhere.
The Presidential agreements are also not used to reward
or penalize individual performance. Based on the
Presidential agreement, agencies are then to create
other agreements between the agency head and
subordinate officials, and which 'cascade' down through
the organization. About ten performance agreements
have been signed to date. Some of these have cascaded
down through an agency. and, at these tiers, can be
linked to personnel evaluation systems and pay
incentives. The intention is to expand the number of
agreements, and include more performance-related goals
and objectives that are in an agency's strategic plan
or annual performance plan.
-- Reinvention labs. Over 200 reinvention labs were
created in government agencies. These labs are testing
ways to streamline administrative processes, and reduce
and eliminate unnecessary controls on Federal managers.
The main focus of the labs has been on controls and
rules established by the agency itself, and not on
-- Performance partnerships. Performance partnerships are
negotiated agreements between the Federal Government
and individual States or local governments, in which
the Federal Government provides the State or local
government with greater flexibility in administering a
program in exchange for greater accountability for
program performance and results. Apart from social
security and veterans programs, the Federal Government
directly delivers few benefits or services to the
public. More often, the States or local government
provide these services, with the cost being funded
entirely or partly by the Federal Government.
Performance partnerships can bring more attention on
the value and impact of these Federal funds. At this
time, a small number of partnerships are being
- Some assert that there is no more important measure to be
included in an annual performance plan than the cost per unit of
service, unit of output, or unit of result. However, existing
financial systems in many government agencies lack the capacity
to assign, cumulate, or report costs. The government is
addressing this shortcoming in two ways. First, the Federal
Accounting Standards Advisory Board has recommended and OMB has
issued an accounting standard requiring cost accounting in the
agencies. Second, the government is completing a definition of
the financial system capabilities and improvements that will be
needed to achieve this cost accounting standard.
PART 2. THE MAIN ELEMENTS OF GPRA AND THEIR STATUS
- An overview of the design of GPRA reveals several underlying
premises and aspects:
-- Virtually the entire Executive branch is subject to the
Act. Provision is made for classified plans and
reports from several agencies where the information
within must be protected for national security reasons.
-- The departments, independent establishments, and
government corporations that must fully meet GPRA
requirements number about 75. Approximately 60 smaller
agencies (those with $20 million or less in annual
spending) may be relieved by OMB from having to meet
all the requirements.
-- GPRA is a very large umbrella, covering not only the
expenditure of monies for programs and operations, but
regulation and tax expenditures when the latter relate
to the achievement of performance objectives. (Tax
expenditures are allowances in the tax code, such as
credits and deductions, and represent revenues
-- Because there is neither a single nor uniform approach
to performance measurement across the government, GPRA
avoids over-specification or rigidity in how agencies
meet the Act's requirements. Flexibility is key if
agencies are to adapt and fit their own particular
processes and activities into a larger performance
-- Almost everything that is done by the government can be
measured in some way. Certainly, there are a few
activities which are not worth measuring from a
performance standpoint (interest payments on debt, for
example), or where an overly finite level of
measurement makes little sense. And everything will
never be measured equally well. To avoid unproductive
debate on how best to categorize or classify any
particular measure, GPRA defines only two types of
performance measures: output and outcome measures.
Both were defined sufficiently broadly to cover other
measures, such as impact, attribute, efficiency, etc.
-- The Act does not establish or assign responsibility for
GPRA implementation to a particular organization or
unit within an agency. In the law, the individuals
given responsibility for carrying out GPRA are the
Director of OMB and the agency heads.
-- Agencies should not create a new GPRA bureaucracy.
Agencies are admonished not to 'reinvent the wheel',
but to use and apply, to the extent appropriate,
existing processes and products when developing the
plans and reports required by GPRA.
-- Plans and reports are to be brief and concise.
Hectares of forest should not be cut to prepare
voluminous piles of paper, and which only intimidate
the prospective reader.
-- Federal agencies do not generally require a substantial
investment in new systems or procedures to manage
programs effectively. To agencies seeking investment
funding for this purpose, two questions should be
raised: have managers regularly examined how their
programs were doing, and acted on this information?
and, what measures are they using for this purpose?
Few agencies are likely to concede that either their
managers have never managed, or used a fundamentally
flawed set of measures in managing. While there are
legitimate needs to improve and expand the set of
measures, or to collect better data more quickly, these
should be a small fraction of current agency budgets.
-- The Federal budget traditionally includes descriptive
material showing the relationship between spending
levels and program activity or achievement levels.
However, this is not performance budgeting in the GPRA
context. GPRA requires a third set of pilot projects
(during fiscal years 1998 and 1999) which test
performance budgeting. In these pilot projects,
optimization analyses will be done, presenting choices
and tradeoffs between different levels of performance
for the same or different budget levels. Cost
accounting data will be needed. Because of substantial
uncertainty about how well the performance budgeting
pilot projects will work, or interest in having budgets
crafted in such a fashion, GPRA defers until the next
century a decision on whether the government should
produce a budget based on these performance budgeting
- GPRA requires that an agency's strategic plan contain the
-- a comprehensive mission statement;
-- a description of general goals and objectives and how
these will be achieved;
-- a description of the relationship between performance
goals in the annual performance plan and the general
goals and objectives in the strategic plan;
-- an identification of key external factors that could
affect achievement of the general goals and objectives;
-- a description of program evaluations used, and a
schedule for future evaluations.
- Strategic plans cover a minimum of six years, and are to be
revised and updated at least every three years.
- Strategic plans provide the foundation for carrying out all
other GPRA requirements. The strategic plans:
-- state an agency purpose: why an agency and its
programs exist, and what will be accomplished and when.
-- define the long-range course of the agency with
sufficient precision to guide the short-term actions of
- GPRA does not specify that a government-wide strategic plan
be prepared, nor are multi-agency plans for cross-cutting
functions envisioned. The absence of such plans dictates that
appropriate coordination be done among those agencies whose
activities and operations form part of a larger inter-agency
program. In these instances, the objective is to assure that
individual agency goals are synchronized and harmonized with
related goals in the plans of other agencies. The agencies are
working jointly to develop a common, consistent approach in
setting goals for the inter-agency programs. Joint groups
already started cover areas such as trade, research and
development, land and resources management, and credit programs.
- Development of strategic plans should be used as the time
for broad discussion about the agency's future programmatic
direction and priorities. Consultation with Congress is required
during plan development, and agencies are also to seek the views
of other interested or potentially affected parties. By
minimizing, if not avoiding, a recurring annual debate about
program direction and purpose, program managers are given a
stable basis from which to set specific annual goals in the
performance plans. Strategic plans should not be a chosen means
for raising basic policy questions, such as altering eligibility
requirements for beneficiaries.
- While full agreement or general consensus on the strategic
plan content is to be hoped for, this may not always happen.
Agencies may have to make difficult choices from among competing
or differing views. To underscore both the importance of
consultation and to record that all relevant and germane views
were considered, agencies are to summarize the consultation that
occurred and any contrary views received during plan preparation.
- Some agencies have years of experience in preparing
strategic plans. Others have yet to write their first. But no
previously prepared strategic plan has yet been identified as
meeting all GPRA requirements. While several existing plans
already appear to meet some of the required GPRA elements, such
as a mission statement and a well-defined set of general goals
and objectives, what generally is lacking is coverage of external
factors, the relationship between the strategic plan and the
annual performance plan, and satisfying the required consultation
with Congress. The experienced agencies are likely to re-examine
their role and missions in a fundamental way when developing GPRA
strategic plans, and not simply re-package existing plans.
Annual Performance Plans
- An annual performance plan contains the following elements:
-- one or more performance goals for each of the programs
and operations covered in the plan. (A performance
goal is a target level of performance expressed as a
tangible, measurable objective against which actual
achievement can be compared, including a goal expressed
as a quantitative standard, value, or rate. Also, a
plan need cover only the major programs and operations
in an agency.)
-- performance indicators that will be used in measuring
outputs and outcomes. (A performance indicator is a
particular value or characteristic, and is used when a
goal is not self-measuring.)
-- a description of the means to be used to verify and
validate measured values.
-- a brief description of the operational processes,
skills, and technology, and the human, capital,
information, or other resources required to meet the
-- any proposed waivers of administrative requirements and
controls to give managers greater flexibility.
- In choosing the goals and indicators to be included in the
plan, agencies should be guided by the following principles:
-- Goals and indicators should primarily be those used by
program managers to determine how well a program or
activity is doing in achieving its intended objectives.
-- Include measures that will be useful to agency heads
and other stakeholders in framing an assessment of what
the program or activity is accomplishing.
- Performance goals in the annual performance plan are derived
from the general goals in the strategic plan. As such, a
performance plan defines the incremental progress in a particular
year toward achieving or sustaining the strategic plan's goals.
Often, the goals in a performance plan will be outputs, while the
general goals are more likely to be outcomes.
- Many of the general goals in a strategic plan will not be
fully achieved until years in the future. Quite probably,
because of shifting tenure and turnover, many of those setting
these goals will not be in positions of direct responsibility
when achievement ultimately occurs. The 12 month timespan of the
annual performance plan allows the government to fix
accountability for one year's progress and achievement on
individuals and organizations with the reasonable expectation
that managers will hold their position over this period.
- Performance measurement pilot projects are being used to
demonstrate whether agencies can prepare annual performance plans
that meet GPRA requirements, and to identify any difficulties
agencies are encountering in plan preparation. (There are no
pilot projects for GPRA strategic plans.)
- Pilot projects were officially designated in all 14 Cabinet
departments and an equivalent number of independent agencies.
Some agencies have more than one pilot project, and over 70
individual pilot projects are covered by these designations. In
some instances, agencies have supplemented the designated list
with their own informal or internal pilot projects.
- The pilot projects range from the very large -- the entirety
of the Social Security Administration and the Internal Revenue
Service -- to the very small. As pilot projects are a learning
experience for the agencies, few restrictions or limits were put
on who could be designated. Nearly 450,000 civilian and military
employees are covered by these pilot projects. While this is a
large scale endeavor, a more critical facet of the designations
is that the pilot projects cover all but two of the 30 major
functions of government. The two functions not covered are
direct delivery of medical and nursing care, and electric power
generation and distribution.
- Depending on when they were designated, the pilot projects
have submitted up to three separate annual performance plans.
With the final set of plans submitted in the Spring of 1995,
assessments are now being done on both the agency experience and
the overall quality of these plans. Some initial impressions:
-- Enough pilot projects were able to produce performance
plans of sufficient quality and covering a variety of
functions to prove that good plans can be produced
across the government. Expectations are that a fourth
or more of the individual pilot projects will be
selected as illustrative examples of promising
practices. The examples are not perfect plans, but a
selection of parts from the better plans which other
agencies might consider adapting or emulating in their
-- A significant number of pilot projects encountered
substantial problems. About ten percent of the pilot
projects were eventually withdrawn. Reasons for
withdrawal included inherent difficulty in defining
program goals, reorganization of the program or staff,
and the failure of other parties (outside the agency)
to produce the performance information that was needed
to prepare the plans and the program performance reports.
-- Many of the plans contained weak performance measures.
These measures included statements purporting to be
goals, but which were no more than inherently
unmeasurable declarations; goals where performance
could not be calculated or determined because one or
more values were omitted (much like a formula with only
one integer); goals which described the procedural
steps being taken to set future goals and measure
performance; and goals that were unrelated to the main
purposes of a program.
- A concern that the poorer plans might be indicative of
future plan quality when plans are submitted 'for real' in 1997
has prompted OMB to take certain steps. These actions include:
-- an orientation for all OMB professional staff on
performance measurement, to better prepare these staff
in assisting agencies in selecting appropriate and
useful performance measures.
-- an accelerated effort to have agencies develop and
provide more and better performance information with
the fiscal year 1997 and 1998 budgets. In the Spring
of 1995, OMB conducted a Spring Review on performance
in which the availability and value of performance
information for some key government programs was
-- giving consideration to having the fiscal year 1998
budget process be a 'dry run' for fiscal year 1999,
when GPRA requirements take effect. Agencies have been
alerted to expect early calls for providing some parts
of the strategic plans in the Summer of 1996, and full
descriptions of the performance measures agencies
expect to use in their fiscal year 1999 performance
plans may be submitted with the fiscal year 1998
budget. This timetable gives OMB and the agencies at
least a year to forge agreement on the measures that
will be used in fiscal year 1999.
-- renewing the emphasis on agencies quickly beginning to
collect current performance data so that baseline and
trend information is available when the specific
performance targets for fiscal year 1999 are set.
Without baseline information, calculating the planned
performance levels can be little more than guesswork.
Annual Program Performance Reports
- The annual program performance report should contain the
-- a comparison of the actual performance achieved with
the performance level(s) specified for each performance
goal and performance indicator in the annual
-- if a performance goal was not met, an explanation of
why the goal was not met, along with either:
(a) the plans and schedules for achieving the
performance goal in the future, or
(b) a statement that the performance goal as
established is impractical or infeasible, and
expressing the agency's intention to modify or
discontinue the goal.
-- the summary findings of any program evaluations
completed during the fiscal year.
-- a description of the use, and an assessment of the
effectiveness, of any waiver of administrative
requirements and controls in achieving performance
goals. (This is the managerial accountability and
flexibility portion of the report.)
- By completing one cycle of planning, doing, measuring, and
evaluating, and helping begin a new cycle, program performance
reports close the loop. What programs (and managers) achieved or
failed to achieve is factored into the next round of plans, both
performance plans and strategic plans. The adjustments,
revisions, and corrections that flow from information in an
annual report renew the plans, making them current and real. The
report's retrospective scrutiny of what was actually achieved
also serves as a self-correcting device. Goals found to be too
ambitious will be lowered, and goals which consistently
underestimate what really can be accomplished will be raised.
- As the reports are sent to the President and Congress, and
are available to public, accountability and performance will
become quite visible, -- perhaps uncomfortably so.
- The performance measurement pilot projects are also being
used to demonstrate whether agencies can prepare annual program
performance reports that meet GPRA requirements, and to identify
any difficulties agencies are encountering in preparing these
- Pilot projects that prepared a performance plan for fiscal
year 1994 have submitted program performance report for that
year. These reports are currently being reviewed. In most
instances, the quality of the report reflects the quality of the
plan. In some instances, agencies are able to report actual
performance even though performance goals in the performance plan
lacked a measurable value.
Managerial Accountability and Flexibility
- The conceptual entirety of GPRA is fused from three basic
elements: (1) strategic planning, (2) performance measurement
(which covers goal-setting, measurement, and reporting), and, (3)
greater flexibility for managers in return for greater
accountability for results.
- This third element -- managerial flexibility -- is
introduced by waiving selected administrative requirements and
controls. These administrative and procedural requirements are
prescribed by agency rules and directives. (GPRA gives no new
authority to waive administrative requirements established in
law.) Requirements and controls that may be waived are those
imposed across the government by an agency which has a central
management role, and cover areas such as financial management,
personnel, supply, buildings, etc. The Department of the
Treasury, the General Services Administration, OMB, and the
Office of Personnel Management are considered to be central
- A key conclusion reached after examining the experiences of
other governments with reforms similar to GPRA is that incentives
are essential if managers are to change how they manage and
become more accountable. Fewer rules, fewer controls, and more
latitude in how one uses and directs resources and organizations
to accomplish program and policy goals were seen as key
incentives. Recognition of superior performance through
individual financial reward is another. (Imposing a financial
penalty for poor performance is more difficult under the current
- While the managerial flexibility element of GPRA attempts to
mirror what other countries are doing, a manager's autonomy under
GPRA is likely to be less than the discretion given his or her
counterparts in some other countries, where they can decide how
and on what to spend on running costs, or to set compensation
- A set of managerial accountability and flexibility pilot
projects are to test how important this third element could be in
transforming how agencies are managed and programs are
administered. No pilot projects have yet been chosen, but review
of eight nominated pilot projects and their requested waivers
will be completed in October 1995.
- On the whole, the eight nominations raise uncertainty about
whether the pilot projects will fully test the managerial
accountability and flexibility concept.
- The nominations are a mixed lot. Several nominations are
very narrow, seeking only to waive a single requirement, some are
a mixture of potentially significant changes and requirements
which are more an annoyance than a substantive burden. Some
prospective waivers have been overtaken by time (the requirements
to be waived no longer exist, see the reference to the National
Performance Review below). Other requested waivers are
tangential, at best, to the notion of managerial flexibility.
- While it is too early to draw any conclusions, some
speculative explanations have been voiced about why this set of
pilot projects is turning out this way. These include:
-- The major downsizing of the Federal workforce. Still
underway, this downsizing may have made agencies
uncertain about whether relief from limits on how many
staff an agency could employ was appropriate or needed.
-- A preemptive de-regulation by central management
agencies. GPRA was enacted prior to completing the
first phase of the National Performance Review.
Several agencies, most particularly OPM, have cut
substantially the requirements imposed on other
agencies. One can't waive what is no longer required.
-- Agencies may have discovered that the most burdensome
requirements and controls are self-inflicted, and not
imposed by central management agencies.
-- Perhaps, the Federal Government may be an exception to
the prevailing principle that managers need incentives,
such as flexibility, if they are to be more accountable
for results. Or perhaps, it is still too early for
most managers to determine what they would like in
terms of added flexibility.
-- Some agencies may have found that developing good
performance measurement pilots was task enough, and the
managerial flexibility pilot projects were overloading
their capacity at this point in time.
PART 3: GENERAL OBSERVATIONS
Some general findings
- The concept and basic structure of GPRA appears to be sound.
No fundamental flaws have yet been discovered. This should not
be surprising, because GPRA concepts are neither new nor
- Enough agencies are making enough progress to indicate that
GPRA can be done. However, GPRA is still in a formative stage,
and the reality of what this law actually means for agencies,
managers, the Congress, and the public is yet undetermined.
- A few agencies are beginning to introduce new standards for
evaluating the performance of senior managers and officials.
These new standards place much greater weight on how well
managers are managing their programs, and on what programs
achieve. Changes in how managers are evaluated and rewarded is
critical to affecting any change in how they manage.
- The large-scale cutting of red tape and unnecessary rules by
the National Performance Review is forming a basic underpinning
for managerial accountability and flexibility. Personnel and
procurement are two areas where major reductions are occurring.
- Scaling up to government-wide implementation is not that
great a mountain to climb.
-- About 25 percent of the Executive branch employees are
covered by the performance measurement pilot projects
when Postal Service personnel and members of the armed
forces are removed from the calculation.
Some general expectations
- GPRA will be successful by disappearing! The transformation
set in course by GPRA will be completed when agencies and
managers carry out its principles and practices as every-day
routine, and not because a law requires them to do so.
- Implementation of GPRA should and will be uneven across the
agencies. If GPRA is easily or perfectly carried out everywhere,
then this Act has brought no great change. As a rising tide
lifts all boats, time, experience, and comparison should raise
the quality of all agency plans and reports to a satisfactory
- Perfection is the enemy of the good. Agencies should strive
to do the best they can now. To delay until an elegant design or
process is put in place, or until all unknowns are explained,
simply means nothing will ever happen. Public and Congressional
expectations about the value and usefulness of plans and reports
are likely to be modest at first, and grow as better examples
appear. Substantive plans and reports, even if incomplete, will
likely fare better in these forums than those which are seen as
- There is no risk without failure. Managers and agencies
will make mistakes. Not all strategies will work; every program
will not succeed. GPRA blends accountability with
entrepreneurship. Without some tolerance for errors, managers
will be risk-avoiders. A natural tendency to focus on faults and
failings must be capped. Some mistakes -- not all -- should be
forgiven. Some may lead to changes in managers. A few mistakes
will lead to corrective steps within the systems and processes.
If the answer to every failure is to place more controls and
bounds within the management structure, then the managers
remaining in government will be those who view their sole
responsibility to be that of following rules.
- Collectively, managers must have a sense of stewardship for
their programs. (In other countries, this proprietary interest
may be termed ownership.) GPRA rides on the shoulders of many
thousands of Federal managers, on their conclusion that what GPRA
seeks to do is a help, not a hindrance. GPRA brings fundamental
change, and change is not always welcome. Some managers will be
uncomfortable, others may resist, but initial indications are
that many managers view GPRA as a challenge and opportunity.
GPRA probably asks more from them, but also allows them to
demonstrate their managerial skill and capacity, and to highlight
the value and worth of the programs and operations they oversee
- Agencies and OMB must link GPRA plans and reports to budget
formulation and execution processes in a decisive way. OMB's
recently issued instructions on the preparation and submission of
strategic plans underscore this principle.
Some general concerns.
- An attempt to make GPRA a budgetary ax would confirm the
worst fears of agencies and managers that this Act is not about
changing how programs are managed, but about fewer programs and
less money. Certainly, as program performance is reviewed,
programs that achieve little or nothing may be eliminated. But
not always. With changes, some failing programs can succeed.
With more funding, underperforming programs may do much better.
Managers should believe that the evaluative judgments arising
from GPRA will produce remedies as well as terminations.
- Managers are frequently reluctant to be accountable for what
they do not control. In many Federal programs, the States, local
governments, or other parties administer the programs and provide
the services. (This year, Congress may lessen further the
requirements and standards that Federal agencies can establish
for some of these programs.) Actions of these other entities can
lie beyond the span of control of a Federal manager. If not
within a manager's span of control, such programs are usually
within his or her span of influence. The general goals in a
strategic plan will cover programs and activities within both
span of control and span of influence. The bridge not yet done
is how to bring performance for span of influence activities into
the annual performance plans. The performance partnerships
mentioned earlier can be one means, and several of the
performance measurement pilot projects are joint Federal-State
efforts. In these pilot projects, the States are setting goals
for their own performance. Collaboration and cooperation will be
key. A complicating concern is a perception that this bridge
might create a future national, performance-based management
system of gigantic proportions, involving and affecting Federal
agencies, States, local governments, and others. There are no
plans for such a system; indeed, it would be resisted as
infeasible if not impractical. More critically, the idea that
Federal managers would, in some manner, set performance levels,
such as service standards, for State and local governments is
untenable politically. The prevailing view in that Federal
mandates should decrease, and mandates that are not Federally
funded should disappear.
- A lack of Congressional interest is likely to be fatal.
What is not used eventually is no longer produced. If and how
Congress will use GPRA plans and reports is a test to come.
- Past, current, or future program performance must become a
factor in funding choices and decisions. If the government or
public view is that simply spending money on a program or problem
is performance enough, than the effectiveness or efficiency of
programs (their real performance) is of little consequence.
- Since GPRA became a law, other performance-related
initiatives have gotten underway. Others began earlier or loom
on the horizon. While this might become too much of a good thing
in this still-formative stage of GPRA implementation, the greater
peril is that many separate, parallel efforts could fragment
organizational responsibilities and staff, duplicate products,
waste effort and time, and confuse. As Benjamin Franklin,
America's emissary to France during the War for American
Independence, stated, "We must all hang together, or assuredly we
shall all hang separately." OMB is developing an overall
framework that would consolidate various plans and reports and
link these with processes for forming and executing the budget.
This framework could possibly encompass a dozen or more of the
current performance-related efforts, including GPRA and other
initiatives (such as financial management and those of the
National Performance Review previously referenced).